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Pennie Bisbee Walters

Shame: born July 4th, 1981

                                after Victoria Chang’s Obit


Snuck in like sewage under sandbags, the day the nurse switched off the woosh woosh that kept my love alive. nineteen, his brain too swollen to save. the phone broadcast its news, then looked the other way, dousing the shine of fireworks next door where hope went on living, heckled me from the yard, unlucky loser. I sensed the car’s speeding, tasted flames of fear. the windshield, unwilling to yield, said nothing. watched me sail over the car’s hood like a vanishing star soon to lose my light, hit by a drunk. for months two bright bombs flashed when I closed my eyes.  for years loss was my name. for years I thought I’d had it coming. my mother’s silence gossiping in my waiting ear—were we partly to blame?  crossing mid-street? one drink, I think, in us both? He Wasn’t Right for You, she said, subtle words of blame, her faulty math equating my act to love him with the drunk’s act to drive. her way to soften that first handshake with death. concussion, shattered leg. morphine, blessed drug of the patron saint of mercy. sailed for days. six months of casting, crutches then cane. thirty-odd pounds of plaster gone, I hobbled then ran, felt joy then guilt, proclaimed the world ugly, asked my mother why:  Things Happen for a Reason, her tidy answer. decades later people still vanish like light at dusk, water into dirt, burned up or buried, my dad, son, even her. I want to shout No.  Shit Happens. ask how she couldn’t see. how silence is a weapon too. but parents are just people and shame is just the black picture frame she planted me in. I grew up, told blame to fuck off and moved to blue-sky’d fields. I spread my arms wide in the sun, stomp on shame’s neck so it no longer whispers to me. Tell it, loving is good, no matter the end.

Lying awake in the clock’s green glow


My friend D. told me she’s afraid

to go to sleep. Letting go

of consciousness is too much

like death. She believes in nothing

after. I was raised to believe.

     I think of beginnings

     & metaphors & try to write this poem, watch

     my thoughts pivot &

     wrestle, though my body wants only to rest, to be lulled

     by my husband’s soft snores.

In my twenties, I worked with a girl who’d married

her college professor then woke one morning to a still

body beside her.

     If no one reads a poem

     does it matter

     that you wrote it?

After our son died

my husband wailed like a buck

cut open but I cried in secret lying

beside him. I tried not to shake the bed.

     Is dying like sleep?

     Why did I think

     hiding grief could lessen it?

The day my dad died I believed in heaven, turned

to my sister & claimed He’s up there playing golf now      yes yes

she replied.     

     What if it’s just

     a lie?


My mom believed in ghosts, thought her dog

saw my dad’s spirit in the living

room. It stared at his chair

& barked. Maybe believing made her miss

him less

     but had she considered that life

     of wandering? untethered

     like a released balloon?

When my son died I wanted to believe

in heaven, to know he felt freed from his wanting

body, that I would see him again. Now

I wish for signs. That quick frigid breeze

at the beach one hot night.

     Was he reaching out

     to me?


are like titles, hard as stone. But this one

came fast. Laid before me

like a threshold.

     In that jagged year of firsts

     my husband’s family paid good money

     to name a star after him.   Thanks

     I managed, holding the framed certificate,

     still wrapped. What did they think

     the purchase meant?

A star named Tim hanging alone

in the sky a million miles away,

the boy I once breathed for

Blue T-Shirt, XXL


What was it like to live in a tent,

that hammock on a hanger you hid

behind? Held you

like a swaddle, softness that begged


to be swaddled just like I used

to swaddle you. It’s the glide of a kiteboard on the ocean’s heft

of royal blue. Or

it’s the chainmail we were,


tight but giving enough. Standing sentry

like a smoke alarm

ready for cemental sacrifice

when the skateboard slipped out from under


your big clumsy feet. This shirt hit the highway

of your narrow hips

then passed them by like a wrong address,

headed south to your knees,


readied itself to bloom out in the wind, just let go

so air could flow across your ribs, bony

and mild, how you craved

a breeze on bare skin, on


your knees those raw

winter days when denim weighed

them down. Not like

this shirt. This shirt isn’t 


a plumbing grate holding

you back. It’s the trap door

opened wide. In one quick swipe

drawing sauce from your cheek, catching


that trickle of elbow blood

when you raise your arms to jump

the curb or stair or ramp. Maybe

it’s the last bite of crumb cake left


on my plate. Maybe

my pair of slippers

Addiction as Lesson in Humility

How a downpour drenches in seconds. He was more, not less:
             not lazy, misguided, weak.
But this: 
             Imagine you, the addict. Resist what your body 
begs for, your cells 
             screaming out. Imagine 
what would kill you. Then 
             reach for it still.
Lit spoon and flame. Needle 
How much can one son take? One parent?
             Rage like cracks in a windshield
cruel and misplaced.    
                         His giving in, the giving over.
                                                                          Do you think he gave up?
Jabbing              release,   then
              the body still.     One body out of pain
another drowning in it.
              The point is:
                           isn’t life a gamble? DNA tossing us 
like empty bags across the wind. 
                           How quick we are, like a heartbeat.
                                       That he was here.     That I grew him inside me, tender as a root. 
How I want to hold the rough grains of him to my lips, then 
                        Him inside me still.


Pennie Bisbee Walters works as technical writer and is part of the Madwomen in the Attic writing community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She earned her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Carlow University in December 2018, and her writing has appeared in Full Grown People and Voices in the Attic.

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